Chapter 19

How can Subjective Wellbeing be Improved?

John F. Helliwell

University of British Columbia, Canada


Individuals, communities and governments are increasingly interested in using subjective wellbeing (SWB)—based on how individuals rate the quality of their own lives—to supplement or even supplant more conventional economic measures of individual and social progress. Some countries, including Bhutan since 1972, and more recently the United Kingdom, have made higher SWB an explicit goal for public policy. This flowering of interest has naturally sparked efforts to increase the quality and quantity of SWB data, research, and policy analysis. These have included the Stiglitz–Sen–Fitoussi report (Stiglitz, Sen, & Fitoussi, 2009) and the Bhutan-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution of July 13, 2011 inviting member states to “pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.” This resolution in turn led to the resulting UN High Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being on April 2, 2012, for which the first-ever World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2012) was prepared. These global initiatives have been matched by public consultations and widespread SWB data collection in the United Kingdom, and efforts by the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to develop international ...

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